Assessment in PE
Perhaps one of the oldest assessments in Physical Education is the physical fitness test (PFT). This test is often given at the beginning of the year, end of the year, and several times throughout the year (up to the teacher’s discretion). Some states (such as California) mandate that it be given when students are in certain grades, too. The assessment involves basic fitness tests including the following: timed 1-mile, sit- up, sit and reach, timed arm hang/pull-ups and often times a vertical jump test.
This test is important in PE for several reasons. The most obvious is that it provides a glimpse of the level of fitness of all students in PE. As the goals of a PE class is typically to help the students improve fitness and well-being, this test is essential to provide check-ins for where each student might be in terms of physical fitness. This test is furthermore important for the student so that they have an idea of where their fitness is in relation to previous performances and their peers of similar age and gender.
How is the PFT given?
Generally, this assessment will take place over 1-2 class periods. The teacher will have the timer and keep the class on task. The students are responsible for assessing themselves or a partner in certain tasks (keeping count of sit-ups, for example) and then for reporting results to the teacher. All times and numbers are recorded by the teacher.
What do you do with the results?
Once the class is finished testing, the teacher is able to use the recorded results to see areas of weakness and strength for each individual student. The recording also may help the teacher identify trends among groups of students or the class. Furthermore, frequent testing allows for students to see progress as they work harder on their fitness. With all of this information, it is then up to the teacher to adjust plans to help improve areas of weakness. Students may also use the information to work on improving performance for the next testing time.
A Critical Analysis
Overall, this assessment has strengths, but many gaps that could be improved upon. First and foremost, we must look to see if this fits into Understanding by Design (UbD) (Wiggins and McTighe, 2005, p.18). The initial step is to consider the goals that have been set, in this case, it is the goal of the teacher and student alike to meet the standard in fitness either set by the department or governing body (state, etc). A secondary goal is for the student to have the knowledge of what it means to be physically fit, and where he or she may be currently compared to the standard requirement. Critically speaking, this assessment provides an avenue to reach those goals.
Leading to my assessment design checklist (ADC), it worthwhile to check in and make sure that this assessment has clear goals. In my practices using this assessment, there have been clear goals outlined. As Shepard mentions, “Students must have a clear understanding of the criteria by which their work will be assessed.” (Shepard, 2000, p.11) In the case of this design, students are told what activities will be performed and what is below, at or exceeding standards. Students thus have concrete information of what will be assessed and what is needed to achieve excellent performance in the assessment.
Moving forward with UbD and ADC, the next area I will critique surrounds feedback and evidence of proficiency. In the case of this assessment, times and numbers recorded allow both the student and the teacher to have feedback as to whether the student performed at a proficient level. Black and William suggest that “Feedback to any pupil should be about the particular qualities of his or her work, with advice on what he or she can do to improve, and should avoid comparisons with other pupils.” (Black and William, 1998a, p.143) Students are clearly below, at or exceeding the standard provided to them in the beginning (ie, their mile time was slower than acceptable or faster than the time given to meet). With that being said, while the evidence is clearly given by the assessment, there is room for more effective feedback. This assessment provides recognition of desired goal and present position, but there is no feedback as to how to close the gap between the two (if any). Furthermore, this assessment begs for comparison with other students, which could be cause for concern with the motivation of the student.
Given the feedback and evidence of proficiency, this assessment does inform instruction. The teacher has the necessary information to see where potential deficiencies lie in his or her students, allowing them to adjust lesson plans and focus on specific aspects (perhaps more repeats for better mile times, upper body work for increase arm hang performance, etc). This assessment is also performed at multiple times throughout the year, as Shepard mentions should be ongoing, so the teacher has the ability to see if their instruction is working, or perhaps it needs to be adjusted. (Shepard, 2000, p.12)
Last, this assessment has some areas in which it lacks — being dynamic and providing insight into levels of understanding. Looking at the first, the PFT allows for no assistance by the teacher to help guide the student. While they can certainly help motivate and push the student, there is no ability to help that can be directly given to help navigate the test as Shepard suggests should be a part of any assessment. (Shepard, 2000, p.10) This assessment is also not open-ended, something that Shepard also suggests a dynamic assessment should be. Shepard, 2000, p.8 Furthermore, it is hard to gauge levels of understanding in a PFT. That is, students either meet the requirement, or they do not. There is no insight given as to whether a student understands the mechanics of running, what muscles are involved in the sit and reach, etc.
Overall, I would give this assessment a grade of a B. It certainly falls in line with UbD, in that it based off of the goal of meeting a standard time, has a clear criterion and it informs instruction. That being said, it fails in assessing understanding as to why a student might not meet the standards and is certainly not dynamic. There is also room for improvement in giving more effective feedback as to how a student might close the gap from where they are to meeting the standard set.
Moving forward with this assessment, I would recommend a few changes. The first might be that this becomes a peer assessment in a worksheet form. I envision it being in pairs of two, and a worksheet where times are recorded, but also observations and recommendations from the peer. The group should test in every area, but are left to decide when on their own (within a 2 class limit).
The idea behind the change would be to provide more effective feedback. Having a peer assess would help eliminate the comparison of an individual vs. the rest of the class. Furthermore, a worksheet that the peer could use to assess, would help provide a way as to how the other could improve their time (I noticed you used more of your arms than your back on the pull-ups, etc). This helps the teacher also gain insight as to whether students have a true understanding of fitness or rather they just know the facts of fast vs. slow, strong vs. weak, etc.
Having a peer assessment also gives the student more control over navigating their assessment. The teacher can help the assessor, but completing the activities would be up to the pair, making this assessment more dynamic.
Finally, I would keep the main goal of the assessment as achieving the desired level of fitness, but I would make more of an effort to reach the secondary goal of the student having a better understanding of fitness. The worksheet I believe would help achieve that secondary goal, but would need a rubric so that the student completely understands what is expected in terms of writing outside of recorded times.
Moving to a Digital World
One area that has never been thought of much in PE is the use of technology. I do think that this is an area this assessment could tap into. A couple ideas I have would be making this an online worksheet, and work with the mathematics department to turn this into a multi-department project. That is, this could turn into a report where students take their times and observations (worksheet) and turn that into a learning opportunity by creating graphs and a workout plan for their improved performance goals. Students would be required to use digital technologies such as Microsoft Excel (graphs and data), powerpoint (presentation for how they assessed and plan to move forward) and then share with the class (google drive). This would probably even provide better insight into student understanding for both departments and give students ownership of their learning.
Black, P. & Wiliam, D. (1998a). Inside the black box: Raising standards through classroom assessment. The Phi Delta Kappan, 80(2), 139-144, 146-148.
Shepard, L. (2000). The role of assessment in a learning culture. Educational Researcher, 29(7), 4-14.
Wiggins, G. P., & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by Design. Alexandria, VA: Assoc. for Supervision and Curriculum Development.